Friday, February 22, 2013

Anniversary of a Better Life

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Zenovia celebrates her two-year anniversary at
Mt. Carmel on February 22, 2013

Exactly two years ago today, Zenovia (name changed) spent her first night at Catholic Charities’ Mt. Carmel House.

She was nervous. She was busy, washing every speck of clothing she owned after coming from a large women’s homeless shelter. But what she remembers best is shutting her eyes in a room of her own and having her first good night’s sleep in months.

“I knew I was safe. Most of all, I knew I was on the right path,” said Zenovia.

Like many of us, Zenovia grew up believing that if you go to school, get a job, and work hard, everything will be OK.  “But really,” she said, “even if you do those things, one hiccup can start a scary downward spiral.” For Zenovia, it was when her boyfriend pushed her so hard that she tumbled over a couch during an argument, causing a hip injury and nerve damage that led to serious complications. As a result, she lost her security job which she had worked for over 15 years, since it required long hours on her feet. With the added stress of this financial hardship, the abuse Zenovia suffered grew worse.

Zenovia loves taking advantage of the
shared kitchen at Mt. Carmel.
 “It became unbearable to live with my boyfriend and feel constantly threatened. I left our home and entered a program for survivors of domestic violence. I had no job, no place to go, and I needed a walker to get around because of my injuries,” Zenovia said.

“Just like that, I was homeless.”

As part of the survivors program, Zenovia could stay in a secure location for 45 days. After that time, she moved into a large women’s shelter. “There’s no guarantees in a shelter,” she said. “Each day you have to begin again worrying about a bed, shower, and food. You’re so worried about day to day, that there’s nothing left of your energy to plan for the future.”

She learned from staff at a food program about Catholic Charities’ Mt. Carmel House (MCH), an independent housing program for homeless women, and applied for a room. At MCH, residents maintain their own living space with shared common areas while they build savings and pursue careers.

“I needed a place to truly recover, not just a place to stay,” Zenovia said.  She moved into MCH on February 22, 2010 and staff quickly supported her in securing a job and maintaining her health, as she attended therapy for her continuing leg problems.

“When Zenovia first came here, she was dealing with some depression. She was used to working, but she could no longer get a job in the field she loved, security,” said Lorraine Lynch, Program Manager at MCH. “She was offered a job in retail, and though it wasn’t her ideal job she took it, and she’s worked hard at it ever since.”

Lorraine (left) said Zenovia has become a role model
for other clients at Mt. Carmel. "They look up to her
and are inspired by all she's accomplished."
Since then, Zenovia has advanced to lead cash wrap, and she’s taken on a second job as well as a professional nonprofit fundraiser. It’s a packed schedule, up to 55 hours a week, but she’s grateful for the opportunity to work. “For so long I wanted to be a productive member of society again,” she said. “I’m not wasting any opportunity.”

Like all the residents, Zenovia puts a fixed percentage of her income towards rent,  and another percentage to build a nest egg for the future. “We want to ensure our clients have the skills to budget their money wisely, so they’ll be prepared for financial independence when they’re ready to leave the program,” said Candice Johnson, Social Worker at MCH.

Zenovia also volunteers at fundraisers for Mt. Carmel, including their upcoming Longaberger Basket Bingo and the Help the Homeless Walkathons. Soon, she’ll undergo surgery that she hopes will be the final healing step in recovering from her domestic violence injuries.

“Thanks to the staff here at Mt. Carmel, I have all the tools I need,” she said. “They give us these tools, and then motivate us to use them. We are really improving our own lives, day by day. Today I can look back and see two years’ worth of accomplishments, and most of all I can look ahead at all I will achieve. I’ve got so much to look forward to now.” 

More Catholic Charities!
Mt. Carmel House's annual spring fundraiser is just around the corner - Longaberger Basket Bingo on Sunday, April 21. RSVP for bingo here or support their work with a monetary donation!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Te Amo, I Love You!

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Last night the parents in our ESOL (English as Second or Other Language) program got a big surprise: homemade Valentines from their kids, made from pink paper, glue, and some very heartfelt words. 

Most of the children are bilingual - speaking Spanish at home with their families, and English at school with their friends. Their parents, many of them immigrants, are learning or improving their English at our ESOL course at the Spanish Catholic Center. A half-hour before ESOL begins, adult learners are invited to bring their children for some family time, practicing and improving their English together. 

"It's an effort to integrate literacy among parents and their children," said Kathy Diaz, ESOL Program Coordinator. Then, the parents head to ESOL class while older kids get homework help and little ones engage in learning activities. 

The Valentine-making craft combines a lot of what family literacy is all about: blending cultures, embracing language, and growing closer as a family. Each day, kids would write one reason why they loved their parents on a paper heart, and glue it onto pink craft paper. 

"It was so cute to hear the kids explain why they loved their mommies and daddies," said Kathy. "It was a simple project, but a wonderful way for the kids to show their parents how much they love and appreciate them."

Our ESOL program with its family literacy extension has three cycles annually. Get more information on the ESOL page!

NEW! Our ESOL program is on Facebook! Follow them here. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent: Volunteer and Live the Pope's Message

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Guest Post by Father John
President and CEO, Catholic Charities 

I know I'm in the minority when I say this, but I love Lent. It's a refreshing opportunity to get back to the basics of our faith. Here at Catholic Charities, it's a busy season as we have several big projects that could use your do-good attitude.

Earlier this week Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation effective February 28, with a conclave to elect his successor meeting soon after. When Pope Benedict visited Washington, DC in 2008, we marked his visit by holding a massive food drive across every parish and Catholic school.

It's just one of many traditions we've continued - the Lenten Share in Hope Food Drive. If you are making a Lenten promise to volunteer or give back, here are some ways you can help us

This Lent, rather than looking to "give up" something, what if we all reflect on what we can add: a few hours of volunteering, a few canned good items to our shopping carts for Share in Hope, or a few moments spent with someone who seems isolated or lonely. Pope Benedict defines charity as "love received and given," and I'm inspired by the love we are able to share through simple, everyday acts of service.

Are you sharing love through simple, everyday acts of service this Lent? Post them to our Catholic Charities Facebook

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hundreds of Thousands March for Life on the National Mall

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The annual March for Life was held Friday, January 25, commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Roe versus Wade. Catholic Charities' Sanctuaries for Life staff participated in the March and helped the Archdiocese of Washington’s Project Rachel Ministry distribute information at the Adult Rally/Mass held at St. Matthew's Cathedral.  

Even though it was a very cold day, our Sanctuaries staff report the weather didn’t hinder the spirits among the thousands from all over the country from participating in the March! 
Under all those layers are Jenny and Michelle from our Sanctuaries for Life,
marching with thousands of others at last week's March for Life!

Flyer from the Adult Rally & Mass

Thousands pack the streets, seizing the opportunity to voice their support of life
here in the nation's capital

As Michelle (Program Director for Sanctuaries for Life) said, "It's cold, but the good spirit
of everyone gathered keeps us warm!"
More Photos Coming Soon! 

More Catholic Charities!
Not familiar with Sanctuaries for Life? Our compassionate staff help women facing an unintended pregnancy make a life-affirming decision. No judgment - just help. Learn more here

The annual March for Life is just one of many ways you can get involved in our good work. Get our complete list of volunteer activities here!